First pitchers' duel of 2017 yields first walkoff victory as newly-arrived outfielder's long double tops Nevada
By PAUL STURM, C-T Sports Editor
CHILLICOTHE, Mo. — Heading into his first season as head coach of the Chillicothe Mudcats baseball team, Jack Winters developed a roster he anticipated would feature good pitching and defense and, offensively, need to scratch out some runs with contact hitting, speed, and execution. Under such a plan, the likelihood of playing plenty of low-scoring games – pitchers’ duels, in the game’s parlance – was high.
Then came the actual start of the 2017 season as June arrived and the pitching sagged and the defense lagged to a degree, but the hitting was lusty, resulting in a string of high-scoring contests, of which the club fortunately won slightly more than it lost.
Friday night, following a 12-10 run-fest in which Winters’ squad used a 6-runs eighth inning pull out its fourth triumph the night before, the Mudcats – in their seventh outing – finally had a game like the coach envisioned.
Righthanded pitcher Chris Peres, summoned to bail out quickly-fading starter Parker Kirkpatrick with two runs in and the bases loaded in the fourth inning of a home game with the winless Nevada Griffons, fanned the first batter he faced to leave the bases full and keep the game at 2-0, then had four scoreless innings that eventually led to a 4-3 Chillicothe conquest in MINK League action..
While a Nevada run in the top of the ninth off Austin Gussman (2-0) tied the game 3-3 and denied Peres the winning decision he’d earned, the Mudcats (5-2, 3-2 MINK) rang up their third victory in a row when Kody Gardner, making his first start after arriving only the day before, bombed a high drive over the head of the right fielder with no outs in the home half of the ninth to plate pinch-runner Christian Hoplock from second.
Hoplock was running for designated hitter Devonte Washington, who – one pitch after barely escaping being called out for a swinging third strike on a checked swing – had singled to center to open the Mudcats’ ninth against lefthander Dean Alexander, who came in after righthander Riley Ulery had retired all nine Fish he’d faced.
With a lefty-lefty duel set up between Gardner and the new hurler for the Griffons (0-9, 0-7 MINK), the speedy Hoplock – despite having only a short lead at first – worried Alexander enough that he threw to first a couple of times, then committed a balk as he flinched just prior to delivering one of his first couple of offerings to the plate.
With the potential winning run now in scoring position, Gardner zeroed in on finding a pitch he could pull to the right side and at least advance the pinch-runner to third. A 2-2 delivery turned out to be one he could turn on and he rocketed it high in the air to deep right. It landed beyond the retreating right fielder and the wall, allowing Hoplock to score from second without a play even though he had waited near second to see if the ball was caught and he could tag up and advance to third, if need be.
The first walk-off outcome of the year, set up by Nevada’s small-ball manufacture of a run in the top of the ninth – via an infield single, a bunt single, a sacrifice bunt, and a sacrifice fly, came after a 3-runs fifth had overcome the deficit Peres had inherited.
With one down in the Mudcats’ fifth, a low, inside, 3-2 pitch to No. 9 batter Kenny Jarema clipped his foot rather than simply being ball four.
Next batter Josh Urps, who in previous games had flashed unexpected pop with the bat despite his relatively-modest physical stature, connected on a pitch from seemingly-cruising Nevada righthanded starting pitcher Jonah Smith and crushed it to deep center field. The blow went for a run-scoring triple, narrowing Nevada’s lead to 2-1.
Surprisingly, that knocked Smith from the game, even though that was only the first run he’d allowed in a 41⁄3-innings stint that saw him strike out five and walk none.
Taking over on the hill with the tying run at third, lefthander Solomon Klimeck’s first pitch was a breaking ball in the dirt and inside to Anthony Lantigua. The ball bounced to the backstop for a wild pitch and Urps sauntered home to tie it.
Lantigua singled on the next pitch and was safe at second when the charging Nevada shortstop’s underhand toss there for a force-play attempt was high and pulled the second baseman off the bag. With one out and two on, first baseman Bryce Bisenius bounced a single through the box and inte center field, scoring Lantigua easily to put the home club on top for the first time, 3-2.
That’s how it stayed until the ninth.
Statistically, for a second-straight night, Chillicothe won despite being out-hit, this time 11-9. With his game-ender, Gardner joined Bisenius in having the Mudcats’ only multi-hits games.
Nevada stranded at least two runners in six of the nine innings and left 14 on total.